This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Indo-China war. Yet while China seems to have moved on, India is still seemingly nursing its wounds. Indeed, the sad fact is that it has been unable to reconcile the psychological trauma inflicted during its infancy as a nation.
This is reflected in the attitude of India towards its neighbour, and the way it allows even small issues to mar bilateral relations. Despite rhetorical flourishes over how the two countries are natural partners in growth, Sino-India relations are increasingly complicated. The two nations are engaging with each other on boundary issues, undertaking regular high-level political contacts and seeing bilateral trade soar. But although they both believe in a multi-polar world, their distrust for each other seems to be increasing.
Take the example of a recent dispute concerning Indian traders in China. Two traders were held hostage in Yiwu because the company they were representing failed to honor its business commitments.The media and some other groups in India hyped the issue to such an extent that it placed a further strain on political ties. This is despite the fact that India has had numerous similar issues with other nations, including Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka. The difference in those cases, though, is that disputes don’t become potential political flashpoints.
Unfortunately, the latest incident was marked by jingoism, and there was no real attempt by the mainstream media to understand the problem. Instead of an informed and enlightened debate, most of the coverage sought to create hysteria. This forced the government to intervene and engage at the political level.
At times, India seems to display a kind of siege mentality in dealing with its neighbour – it acts as if it’s being encircled in the region by a rising China. And it all seems to boil down to its 1962 defeat.
Compounding the problem is the fact that the political leaderships of both countries are very quick to talk about their shared history and vision for global development, but fail to get to the root of disagreements that exist now. As a result, despite having robust economic and cultural ties, mutual trust between the two is diminishing rather than increasing.
It’s time we moved forward and accepted the differences between us so that a new understanding can be forged. According to an old saying, there can’t be two tigers on a mountain. But in geostrategic terms these days there’s enough space for the two tigers to exist together with their own distinct identity and spheres of influence.